Part of the joy in watching Fran Kirby is knowing what she has overcome | Jonathan Liew

Kirby has returned to her best form at Chelsea after years when illness, injury and depression threatened her career

One of the most stirring and affective qualities of sport – really good sport, mind – is its ability to express long stretches of time in the flicker of a moment. The goal you celebrated wasn’t just a goal: it was the product of a choreographed move, a tactical plan, days and weeks of training and drilling. The outrageous nutmeg you shared in the group chat wasn’t just a nutmeg: it was the hundreds of failed nutmegs that went into honing and chiselling that particular skill. And when you watch a great athlete, on some level you’re not simply gawping at a coloured blob on a screen. You’re seeing the years of work they put in, the obstacles they have overcome to entertain you. You’re seeing the journey.

But of course there are grades and shades to this process. If you didn’t know anything about Fran Kirby in advance of watching her play, you wouldn’t enjoy the experience any less. You would glimpse the magnetic close control, the command of space, the four-dimensional movement, the anticipation and the vision and the speed, and think: “Hey, that Chelsea No 14’s pretty decent.” And yet to a greater extent than with most footballers, Kirby is one of those players who seems inseparable from her journey. Or, put another way: you don’t need to know what Kirby has been through away from the pitch to appreciate her skill on it. But in a weird way, it helps.

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